Baltimore Orioles slugger Trey Mancinis is the latest sports star to release their own digital collectible tokens. The first baseman’s non-fungible tokens will be up for sale on Monday to raise money for his cancer charity since he beat the disease earlier this year.
The NFTs will go up for sale on the Ureeqa platform. The professional baseball player has partnered with Ben Armstrong, a TikTok influencer, who announced the sale in a tweet on Friday.
“This drop is extremely important to me,” Mancini said in a statement quoted by Coindesk. “Not only is it my first experience with NFTs, but the cause is near and dear to my heart.”
NFTs are essentially digital collectibles that represent real-life assets such as artwork, music, videos or even virtual land or animals. Each is unique and is verifiable and cannot be exchanged for another, unlike a cryptocurrency.
Mancinis has joined the plethora of celebrities who are using NFTs to raise money such as artist and producer Jay Z, rapper Ja Rule, entrepreneur Rob Gronkowski, actor Lindsay Lonhan and singer Katy Perry. What separates Mancini from the rest is the fact that his money will go to charity.
“All proceeds go to his foundation working to support cancer research and those who face serious illness and hardship,” Amstrong wrote on Twitter.
Mancini’s career began in 2016 and was interrupted when he was diagnosed with colon cancer last year. This year, he beat the disease and has dedicated his charity, the Trey Mancini Foundation, to raise funds to fight colon cancer.
When Lesley Campbell sued Citibank in March 2015 to get a portion of her law school debt forgiven in bankruptcy, everyone told her she was wasting her time. Conventional wisdom held that student debt is impossible to get rid of, even in bankruptcy.
Then, she got a text from an unknown number advising her that there was a legal way to discharge her debt – along with an offer to help do just that.
Campbell thought it was a joke.
It was Austin Smith, a newly-minted lawyer who had previously worked as a headline writer at The Onion. Except he wasn’t joking. Smith believed courts had systematically misinterpreted the federal bankruptcy code in favor of lenders over student borrowers. He was on the hunt for a client to test his legal theory.
A year later, Smith succeeded in convincing a federal judge that the unpaid portion of Campbell’s $15,900 bar exam study loan from Citibank could be cancelled in bankruptcy.
The victory marked the starting point for what’s become Smith’s raison d’être to help as many student loan borrowers as possible. At 39, Smith estimates that he has prevailed in about 75 cases, leading to the canceling of some portion of his clients’ student debts. Bankruptcy judges have cited the Campbell case at least 20 times, court records show.
Smith has also resorted to unconventional methods that blend hard-knuckle lawyering with public pressure campaigns, advocacy and a relentless stream of YouTube broadcasts that document his quest to help student loan borrowers find a lifeline. In the process, he’s borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep their legal fights alive while pursuing his own life-or-death struggle with cancer.
“This is not exactly a normal law firm,” Smith wrote in an email to his team last October. “We do not charge our clients an hourly rate, nor do we seek out the most profitable types of lawsuits such as medical malpractice or securities fraud. We seek out groups of people who are being tormented and we make it stop.”
Seth Frotman, former student loan ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, says that Smith’s battle makes clear that America’s student loan system, in which obtaining relief for borrowers is difficult even when the law is on their side, is broken. “When you talk to Austin, you see the culmination of hearing from these borrowers day-in and day-out and the predatory practices they’ve been forced to endure,” Frotman says.
Smith’s legal victories upended years of case law that had steadily built up in lenders’ favor; one lawyer who has worked with Smith credits him with providing the “intellectual genesis” behind a whole line of cases that are now undoing that case law.
Yet even after five years of non-stop litigation, Smith’s goal seems as distant as ever. The niche area of bankruptcy law that he’s identified can only help some borrowers who took out privately-issued student loans – a small chunk of the total $1.7 trillion owed by Americans. And even for them, getting relief can sometimes take years. That hasn’t deterred Smith, who was once called the “Don Quixote of student debt,” by a federal bankruptcy judge, according to an attorney who witnessed the exchange.
It’s a moniker Smith readily accepts; he bought a Don Quixote print to hang over his desk, which he calls a “good reminder that you never know if what you’re about to do it quite stupid.”
Lenders have had more choice words for him. Lawyers for Navient Corp., the giant student loan servicer, have accused Smith of running a “media crusade riddled with falsehoods” and recently sought about $600,000 in costs and attorneys’ fees, a figure that could have potentially crushed his fledgling legal practice. A federal judge awarded Navient about one-tenth of the sum after it successfully fought off a bold attempt by Smith to push its loan-servicing arm into bankruptcy through an involuntary bankruptcy petition.
In mid-March, after confessing to his YouTube followers that the gambit had amounted to an “epic failure,” Smith decided to change tack: He filed paperwork to run for Congress in New York’s first House district, which includes the posh Hamptons getaways of the rich and famous, where he moved during the pandemic.
“If we are unsuccessful in the judicial branch then maybe there is a solution in the legislative branch,” Smith said in an interview, adding a touch of bravado that colors much of his legal briefs: “I can get that done.”
In some ways, Austin Connell Smith was an unlikely candidate to champion the cause of America’s overly-indebted student borrowers. Smith grew up in an affluent Chicago suburb, where his father worked as a corporate lawyer for Brunswick Corp. and other large companies. A trust fund worth around $100,000 awaited him should he ever decide to go to law school.
When Smith first turned his attention to law school in 2006, he wondered if then-FBI director Robert Mueller might write a letter of recommendation for him, according to an email exchange with his father. Smith’s father had gone to law school with Mueller and Mueller’s wife is godmother to one of Smith’s sisters. His dad wrote back that Mueller was not the right person to ask for a recommendation. Mueller didn’t respond to a request for comment.
When Smith got passed up for a full-time job at The Onion, he finally turned to law school. He enrolled at the University of Maine Law School, where he often spent his mornings at a coffee shop near campus writing a satirical novel and searching for a topic to dig into for a law review article. A chance encounter with another regular at the coffee shop, Bill Wilson, provided the spark he was looking for.
Wilson was the byproduct of a different era. A retired litigator, he attended Maine Law some 35 years before Smith, when tuition was so cheap that he could easily pay for law school by working a union job at a paper mill during the summers. By the time they met in 2014, tuition was so high that Smith still owes about $170,000 for his law degree.
Wilson was in the midst of examining bankruptcy rules surrounding student loans. He was surprised to learn that educational debt was exempt from discharge unless it met certain exceptions. He encouraged Smith to research them and see if they were as ironclad as everyone believed they were.
“Austin took it and ran with it,” Wilson recalls.
Thicket of confusion
Each year, about a quarter million student loan debtors file for bankruptcy. Of those, fewer than three hundred get their educational debt discharged in bankruptcy. That’s a success rate of 0.1%, according to calculations by Jason Iuliano, law professor at Villanova University who specializes in bankruptcy and student loan issues.
But those figures don’t tell the whole story. In 2017, for instance, only 447 out of the 241,000 student loan borrowers who filed for bankruptcy actually sought to have their educational loans discharged. The remaining 99.8% didn’t bother trying. But of those who did, around 60% managed to get a discharge of some portion of their student debt, Iuliano found.
“When you look at the people who bring these cases, they’re by and large very successful,” Iuliano says. But few borrowers bother trying to cancel their student loans when they file for bankruptcy because doing so requires an extra step – a lawsuit petitioning a judge to discharge the loans. And thanks to a widely-held belief that student debt is categorically exempt from discharge, few are willing to take that chance.
Until recently, a presentation titled “Bankruptcy Mythbusters” posted on the website of one of the nation’s most prominent bankruptcy courts, the Southern District of New York, said that student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy along with the mea culpa, “yeah, sorry about that.” But in Jan. 2020, the court’s chief judge, Cecelia Morris, made headlines when she canceled about $220,000 of student loans owed by a U.S. Navy veteran named Kevin Rosenberg.
“Most people (bankruptcy professionals as well as lay individuals) believe it impossible to discharge student loans,” Judge Morris wrote in her decision. “This Court will not participate in perpetuating these myths.”
The court updated the incorrect language in its presentation after Business Insider asked Morris about it. The truth is that there are exceptions. Borrowers can have their student debts canceled in bankruptcy if they can show that paying them off would impose an “undue hardship,” which is what Rosenberg proved in his case. Typically, that requires a borrower to demonstrate that they cannot maintain a minimal living standard, that their circumstances are unlikely to change, and that they’ve made good-faith efforts to repay their loans.
Rosenberg had kept current on his undergrad and law school loans even as the balance swelled from less than $200,000 to nearly $400,000 over the course of 14 years. After his camping and hiking gear store collapsed in 2017, he researched bankruptcy rules and decided to seek discharge of his private and federal student debts. His lenders either settled or lost in court; when one of them appealed, Smith stepped in to handle the appeal for free. Meanwhile, Rosenberg, freed from his debts, is getting ready to start a new life in Norway as a tour guide for Arctic and sub-Arctic expeditions. “I want people to know that this is a viable option,” he says.
Iuliano estimates that, of the more than 2.6 million student loan debtors who filed for bankruptcy between 2011 and 2019, at least 29% would have been able to prove “undue hardship” if they sought to do so in court. It’s the only way for bankruptcy filers to get rid of any student loans owned or backed by the federal government, which are projected to nearly double to $3 trillion by 2030.
But borrowers who owe privately-issued loans have even more exceptions they can rely on. That’s because “private” student debt isn’t defined anywhere in the U.S. bankruptcy code. Instead, the law refers to “qualified education loans” – those made for direct education expenses like tuition, books, room and board at accredited colleges and universities. Private student loans meeting that definition – such as a $20,000 loan that’s used to pay tuition at a four-year state university – can’t be cancelled in bankruptcy, absent a showing of “undue hardship.”
Smith noticed that over the last 20 years, banks originated various loans which resembled student debt but didn’t fit the qualified loan definition – like Campbell’s Citibank loan, which she used to cover rent and groceries while studying for her bar exam in 2009 (A spokeswoman said Citi has since exited the student loan business and declined further comment).
Even after Smith succeeded in getting Campbell’s bar exam loan cancelled, she still owes about $360,000 in federal student debt for her Pace University law degree. The amount has more than doubled over the years even as she continued to make payments since the interest is accruing faster than the payments she’s making – a phenomenon known as negative amortization. Some 60% of student loans owed by millennials are experiencing negative amortization, according to a recent study.
Campbell didn’t seek to have her federal loans discharged when she filed for bankruptcy. “I did not know about this case!!!!!!!” she said in a text message when informed of Judge Morris’s ruling.
A life’s cause
Smith noticed these discrepancies when he dug into the bankruptcy code at Wilson’s behest. Once he graduated law school and joined a corporate law firm, he published his findings in an article, arguing that “the common belief that all student loans are protected from discharge in bankruptcy is based on a misunderstanding” of federal bankruptcy law. The article helped him convince his higher-ups to let him test his legal theory by litigating the issue pro-bono, at no cost to his clients.
The permission slip set Smith off on a search for the perfect plaintiff. Smith often worked late into the night, digging through internet chat forums and court records for several months before finally stumbling across Campbell in May 2015. After prevailing in her case in the spring of 2016, Smith left his corporate law job to start representing borrowers like Campbell full-time. The search began for others like her.
Instead, prospective clients were soon finding him. Smith’s inbox filled up with emails from borrowers whose lives had been crushed by student debt. “I was so despondent that I considered suicide as the only viable way of getting out from under these loans,” one email reads. “I have $50k student debt, no degree, was a victim of attempted murder, out of work, and homeless,” reads another. “I’m so desperate. Please help. I make $65K a year. I can’t even afford the monthly interest that accrues on my loans (all federal),” reads a third from a borrower who owed about $225,000. Another borrower who owed $598,000 wrote about seeing no viable future for herself.
Such emails hit a nerve with Smith. Despite his upper-class upbringing, he had grown up with a sense of empathy for those less fortunate than him. When he was in junior high school, his mom got a call from another parent thanking Smith for helping her son when he saw him being bullied by older kids after school. Without being prompted, Smith had intervened to help put an end to it, she recalls.
But helping student loan borrowers is tricky – and costly. The best plaintiffs are often the ones least able to pay legal fees. Class-action lawsuits, while often more lucrative for lawyers, are hard to organize due to the intricacies of bankruptcy courts and student loan plaintiffs’ unique circumstances.
To help run the firm, Smith borrowed $100,000 from a bank, and another $125,000 from his father. He turned to litigation finance firms – which specialize in funding cases that hold out the promise of large payouts – to cover the rest.
As his practice grew, Smith won acclaim for making novel legal arguments to help borrowers discharge their student debts. Meredith Jury, a former California bankruptcy judge who has provided pro bono assistance to Smith in one of his cases, said Smith began making legal arguments that judges hadn’t heard before. “Very few lawyers understand the loans well enough to even raise them,” she said.
Then, life took an unexpected turn: In Jan. 2017, Smith was diagnosed with stage two testicular cancer. One doctor said he might have six months to live, though others gave him better odds. “I felt so ashamed at that moment,” he recalls, “like I had an expiration date.” He signed up for chemotherapy and lost all his hair. As he laid in bed, he said that he would often occupy his mind thinking about what he would do if he had a chance to live longer.
Eventually, he says, he vowed to make it his life’s cause to help the student loan borrowers. “The calls, the emails, the stories. I felt so responsible for it,” he thought. “You have to finish this or at least die trying.”
Navient provided Smith the challenge he was looking for.
While he was receiving treatment for cancer in 2017, Smith and his co-counsel sought class-action certification in a lawsuit against Navient centered on a Texas borrower in similar circumstances to Campbell. The complaint alleged that Navient had sought to collect on the borrower’s bar exam study loan even though the debt had been discharged in bankruptcy and was no longer owed. Navient countered that the borrower hadn’t been harmed by its collection efforts and couldn’t pursue a nationwide class action.
The case wended its way through the legal system for years, until it finally landed in court-approved mediation in late 2020. By then, Smith had Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, the powerhouse law firm led by David Boies, at his side. Even so, Smith saw little possibility of a quick resolution.
“We’ve just been going and going and going and going,” he told his potential class action clients in a December Zoom call streamed from the garage of the home he was renting in East Hampton, N.Y.
In February, Smith filed a new petition to try to force Navient’s loan collection arm into bankruptcy. He alleged the company should be considered insolvent and placed in bankruptcy. That would protect the interests of three plaintiffs who alleged that Navient had wrongfully collected $45,684 in debt that had been discharged in bankruptcy. If Smith prevailed, the move would have flipped the calculus in his student loan litigation, turning his clients from borrowers who owed Navient money into creditors in a bankruptcy proceeding.
It was by far the biggest gamble of Smith’s career. It meant withdrawing as counsel from the Texas case since other attorneys in that litigation didn’t back the move. Within hours of filing the petition, Smith resigned from the case and six others, waiving all rights to compensation in legal battles that held out the promise of a big potential payday even as he racked up debts to run his law practice.
“Navient may well dismiss this as the desperate act of a small-time plaintiff’s lawyer. In that they would not be entirely wrong; but it is desperation born of years of battling an adversary who . . . refuses to acknowledge the psychological toll its actions are having on people,” Smith wrote in the bankruptcy petition against Navient.
Navient’s attorneys logged over 630 hours on the case, according to a court filing. Meanwhile, Smith didn’t file a response to their motion to dismiss. And when the hearing on the dismissal started-on Feb. 25, he was nowhere to be found.
A petitioner who joined the hearing on Smith’s behalf explained that Smith had experienced a recurrence of his cancer and had flown to Chicago for treatment.
About thirty minutes after that exchange, the boldest case Smith had ever filed collapsed.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn dismissed the case, which he called an “ill informed” attempt by Smith to jump the queue in his other litigation. He also ruled that Smith had acted in bad faith and awarded Navient a small share of its attorney’s fees and costs after determining that its defense was “overstaffed with too many lawyers and paralegals from two law firms.”
Smith disputes filing the petition out of dishonest motives. A Navient spokesman said Smith “brought baseless but extremely serious claims against our company, so we mounted a serious defense” and “will continue to defend ourselves against any bad faith and baseless accusations in the future.”
When Smith re-emerged from his treatment a few weeks later, he apologized to his clients for getting their hopes up of winning relief from their debts.
“I had heard increasing irritation, I believed, from a number of judges that led me to believe that this was potentially, or likely, a sort of novel way to approach this problem. And I got it wrong. I got it very wrong,” he said in a March 12 YouTube video he labeled as a “somewhat overly bleak explanation of the events.”
Smith vowed to fight on, but admitted that he wasn’t quite sure how. “I still am trying to figure out exactly how to get this done in a way that doesn’t leave three-fourths or half of you out in the cold,” he added.
The same day, he launched his bid to run for Congress in 2022. He’s seeking to represent Long Island’s Eastern half as a Democrat, running on a platform of reforming student loan bankruptcy rules, increasing judicial oversight and demanding accountability for the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
The district has been in Republican hands since 2014. But its current congressman, Lee Zeldin, who voted to overturn the results of the last presidential election, announced last month that he plans to challenge Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2022, opening up the seat.
When members of a Long Island Democratic group asked during a recent Zoom call why Smith wanted to go to Washington, he said one thing which no one should doubt: “I just want to be a footsoldier. I want to work twenty hours a day.”
Cezary Podkul is an award-winning freelance journalist. He was previously a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, ProPublica, and Reuters.
Do you have a story or a news tip about student debt? We’d like to hear from you. Studentdebt@insider.com
Narrator: In 2017, researchers tested 20 best-selling US sunscreens. The good news is that 19 of them met FDA standards. The bad news? Nine of them didn’t meet European standards. Turns out, different countries have different rules for what makes a safe sunscreen and US sunscreens may not be protecting Americans as well as it could. When we lay in the sun, our skin absorbs two types of UV light. UVA and UVB rays. UVB light is higher energy and can cause sunburns while UVA penetrates deeper under the skin and can damage skin cells along the bottom layer of your epidermis.
Desai: We know that UVB rays are the rays that cause sunburns. But UVA rays are the rays that can actually cause skin cancer so you actually wanna cover the spectrum on both of those. I think a lot of people get into a misconception that I didn’t get sunburned so I’m not at prone to getting skin cancer which really isn’t true.
Narrator: The biggest concern with US sunscreen is how much protection you’re getting from cancer-causing UVA rays. For decades, FDA regulations required that sunscreens protect against UVB, but not necessarily against UVA. Meanwhile, rates for melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer, kept climbing in the US. Then, in 2012, the FDA updated its regulations on labeling and testing so that manufacturers must now let customers know if its sunscreen protects against both UVB and UVA. That’s what the broad spectrum label on your sunscreen means, for example. And while this is a good first step, there’s still no regulation on how much protection you’re getting from UVA. So, there’s no way to tell.
Desai: Here in the United States, I think we need to be cognizant of the fact that when a sunscreen says it’s broad spectrum, UVA- and UVB-protecting, that does mean you’re going to get protection against those rays. However, what it does not mean is that it’s going to block out all of the rays.
Narrator: And that’s where US sunscreens fall short.
Desai: And I will say that I do think we are behind other countries globally, particularly some of our European counterparts, in getting new sunscreen ingredients approved. Overall, there has not been much change in US sunscreen composition and what our sunscreens are made up of in the past several years.
Narrator: The FDA has approved 16 active ingredients that protect against UV radiation. But only some protect against both UVB and UVA rays. For comparison, Europe requires that all of its more than 20 active ingredients protect against both.
Desai: Right now, the American Academy of Dermatology and other organizations are really advocating with the FDA that they need to really speed up the approval process for new sunscreen ingredients. Because it’s with these ingredients that we can probably get even better coverage and better protection and maybe even get something that’s easier to apply, that’s easier on the skin, that doesn’t have any harmful side effects for patients.
Narrator: You can purchase sunscreens from other countries online. But if you plan on sticking with American sunscreens, look for the broad spectrum label and don’t buy anything below SPF 30.
Desai: The higher the SPF, definitely the better. But we definitely don’t want anyone going below a 30. And think about if you’re someone who has a history of a melanoma, if you use an SPF 30, you’re blocking out let’s say 98% of the harmful rays. However, what about the remaining 2%? That 2% may be something that could be potential of putting you at a risk down the road.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in November 2018.
Rubius Therapeutics shares more than doubled during Monday’s session after investors received the biotech firm’s outline of results from early-stage tests of a potential cancer drug.
The company said data from an ongoing clinical trial of patients with advanced solid tumors contributed to providing initial proof-of-concept for its platform to generate red blood cells.
Shares of Rubius jumped as much as 136% to $38.71 then trimmed closed the session up by 84%. Trading was heavy, with volume of nearly 38 million shares outrunning the average daily volume of about 1.5 million shares.
Among the data from an ongoing phase 1/2 trial of RTX-240, the company’s cellular therapy product candidate, there was a 54% reduction in target lesions in a patient with metastatic anal cancer.
Rubius said the data collected “provide clinical validation” of its Red Platform red blood cells generation system, said Pablo Cagnoni, chief executive at Rubius, in a statement.
With “encouraging” initial safety and preliminary efficacy data for RTX-240, he said the company plans to initiate a phase 2 expansion cohort in the first quarter of 2022 and a new phase 1 arm of the RTX-240 trial to evaluate it in combination with another therapy during the second half of 2021.
29-year-old Hayley Arceneaux, who survived cancer as a child, is the newest member of an all-civilian crew headed to space aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.
Arceneaux had bone cancer as a child, but she had a list of life goals: beat cancer, learn Spanish, travel the globe, help other children with cancer, and someday, go to space, the Today Show reported. Arceneaux, now a physician assistant at St. Jude Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, has checked off almost every goal. Now she’s set to achieve the last one after billionaire Jared Isaacman selected her to take one of four seats on a SpaceX flight he chartered for later this year.
Isaacman founded payments company Shift4Payments. When he chartered the flight, he planned to fill the seats with himself, a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital worker, and a Shift4Payments customer. The fourth seat is being raffled off to benefit childhood cancer research at St. Jude’s, for which Isaacman hopes to raise $200 million and donate $100 million out of his own pocket. The mission, called Inspiration4, will be the first to take off with an all-civilian crew and no professional astronauts.
On Facebook, Arceneaux said, “I am so grateful for this incredible, once in a lifetime opportunity and honor, and I cannot WAIT to show the world what cancer survivors can do.”
SpaceX did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
As a child, Arceneaux was treated for bone cancer at St. Jude’s, where she had metal rods replace parts of the bones in her left legs, The New York Times reported. That will make her the first person with a prosthetic body part to go to space, as well as the youngest American, the Times said.
In a news release, Richard C. Shadyac Jr., head of the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude, said Arceneaux “will be an incredible ambassador through this mission and inspiration to children fighting cancer and survivors worldwide.” Others who will join Arceneaux and Isaacman will be announced in the coming weeks.